The Training Aid and Trenches
I’d like to say a quick thanks to Golf Teaching Pro magazine for helping golf instructors continue to learn and improve. You won’t find an article like this anywhere else.
The most common question I get when someone walks in the shop is, “So, what’s new?” I guess it is a given that since the customer’s previous order, there must be something new we sell that is far superior to any product we previously sold, a miracle training aid “pill” that melts away strokes like stubborn belly fat. Little does the customer asking this question realize that my reply to them carries far more backstory than the brief description and 480-pixel image on our website would lead them to believe.
If you’ve ever entertained the idea of creating a training aid yourself, this article is for you. If you’ve ever wondered what the costs are to develop a training aid and how many units you would need to sell to break even, then read on. You will hear directly from the inventors themselves divulging the true joys and hardships now that they have joined ranks in the training aid war to lower scores.
No product is perfect the first time around, and most business plans represent a best-case scenario. I asked the most recent product vendors the biggest frustrations they have faced since their launch. Here were typical replies:
- “My biggest frustration is that I know I have a good product but don’t have time to promote it.”
- “There was a complete lack of response from any stores I approached.”
- “We had manufacturing problems early on and ended up spending $65k on retooling.”
- “I hardly ever get responses back from people, even when I send them a free product.”
- “It has been hard to balance my family, my real job and my product.”
- “Teaching pros don’t want to sell training aids evenwhen they find them useful.”
- “Many stores tell us flat out ‘NO’ because we’re not one of their vendors. They won’t even look at our website!”
The common theme here is that inventors expect a warmer welcome than they get. They have spent a lot of time, money and energy perfecting their product and are intimately familiar with how useful it can be. They have been told by instructors and friends that they have a great idea, but once their product becomes a reality, they suddenly get labeled as another guy with a gadget. I think it would be similar to being a good cook: Everyone tells you they love your food, but they’re not about to pay you to eat it.
How much money are people putting into product development? How long does it typically take to go from “drawing board to driving range”? Vendors asked that I keep their costs confidential. However, the range was from only $6,000, including the first production run, to more than $100,000 in development costs alone. If you’re familiar with the arm brace that gives you a wide swing radius (the Right Angle), that mold was $50,000 and the mold for the four-finned exercise device known as the Power Fan was about $80,000. Golf Around the World produces these items, so I can tell you without divulging someone else’s secrets. Right Angles cost approximately $16 to produce after royalties, packaging, labor for assembly, and delivery to our warehouse. If you average all our sales (to pros, consumers, and distributors), we make a little more than $12 profit per unit sold. Based on these numbers, we’d have to sell over 4,000 units just to recover the cost of our mold. But, those 4,000 units COST us $64,000 dollars to produce them before we ever made our first sale. Now, all of a sudden, selling a training aid feels more like sending your child to college.
There are other things to consider as well that might not immediately be apparent. I mentioned the cost of a mold, but what about the costs to design the product and make prototypes? What about paying overhead costs to run your business such as utilities, storage, and taxes on inventory? What about direct expenses related to the product like developing and hosting a website, hiring an attorney to get a trademark or patent or defend the same? Where would you choose to advertise and how much should you spend? Is a $10,000 advertising budget too much or too little? Should you hire someone to help you with your marketing and trust them implicitly? These are all serious considerations and they all have to be dealt with.
Your manufacturer will make or break you. It’s one of the few things you can’t get wrong and still survive. For example, Eyeline Golf is proof that vision and perseverance can pay off. I would consider them the most successful training aids company currently on the market, but without a great manufacturer, their success simply wouldn’t be possible.
The biggest mistake most training aid developers make is they don’t have a clearly defined plan for marketing. If they did, they could quickly determine if their product had any merit without sinking years into the effort. In addition, they are usually too open to input from others. I’m not saying that they shouldn’t seek advice or listen to industry experts, but they should do this before they bring their product to market. Successful companies, like successful golfers, ignore most advice. I get asked all the time what I think we should pay for a product, because people don’t know what the norm is.
That’s not a strong negotiating position. Our 30-year purchasing history can be summed up as follows: We pay .45 x the SRP (suggested retail price) if the SRP is less than $50. If the SRP is greater than $50, we pay .50 x SRP. We set our “pro” price somewhere in between and the “distributor” price a little lower. I enjoy talking to vendors and hearing their stories and histories, because I’m as much a collector as I am a salesman. Golf training aids are both a hobby and a business for me. However, other distributors and store buyers will only want to know five things: Is your product packaged for retail sale? How will you help to promote sales of your product? Will you be reliable to work with? What is the margin and is it sold for less online? Most will also want to know if you are EDI compliant, meaning can all the paperwork and labeling be handled electronically? If not, you’d have to sell through one of their vendor partners, which means part of your profit goes to someone else.
What is the size of the market that everyone is fighting over, and how many products compete in that space? First, you must define what a training aid is and is not. Nets, mats, and limited-flight balls are not training aids; they are practice products. A putting mat is not a training aid, but a putting mat with squaring lines is. DVDs and books aren’t training aids. A training aid provides real-time feedback that is beneficial in improving the desired outcome of a motor skill. Almost
anything can be a training aid, and that’s what makes them so fun! A small paper cup over the ball is a training aid. A dime taped to a putter face is a training aid. A pro (Bill Linton) used to sell a piece of string as golf’s most versatile training aid. The instructions he provided on how to use the string backed up his claim.
The training aids market is rather small, though, when compared with market size of practice products and other learning tools like books and DVDs. We have about 350 legitimate training products (that is, not including nets, mats, and practice balls), plus there are at least another 100 training aids I’m aware of that we don’t stock, and that’s just here in the United States. There is a broad range of international products available, too. Japan, South Korea, England, Germany, and Canada all have growing markets. China manufactures almost half the products sold here, but has developed its own market as well as servicing ours. I had to laugh when I was talking with someone who wanted to submit a product to us. He said, “I went to your website and I thought, ‘Holy Buckets! If I were just starting I’d never take up the game. Is it that hard to hit a golf ball?’”
How true. If there is paralysis by analysis, I guess there is also anxiety by variety. No one really knows the size of the training aids market, so I’ll give you my best estimation, and future authors can update it. Domestically, I think about $60-$80 million dollars of training aids are sold annually, and worldwide perhaps $150 million. It sounds like a lot, but once you take into account the 80/20 rule that the top 20 percent of the products account for 80 percent of total sales, that $80 million becomes $16 million that the remaining estimated 350 products are vying for. Now, you can see why most products only last four or five years. It’s a huge time and energy investment. To break even year after year is a significant challenge.
Now you know all the insider secrets you need to know to develop a training aid or run your own training aids business! The question is, is it worth it? In every case where someone comes to me for advice on whether they should pull the trigger and “go for it” to make their training aid, I universally say no, they definitely should not. The way I see it, if I tell them no and they are so passionate or naïve that they still do it, then maybe they’ve got a chance. As I mentioned
before, it’s a lot like having a child in the sense that the commitment inventors have to their product borders on being irrational. They will do anything for them to a fault. Only other training aid “parents” would understand why. I asked both new and old vendors what keeps them going, why they persist:
- “My product really helps people.”
- “I know it works.”
- “It helped me and I know it can help others.”
My advice to all the thinkers out there who get a late-night flash of inspiration after watching Michael Breed doing drills with a toilet plunger and a pair of socks is don’t over-invent! If something can be taught with a pair of socks, you don’t need to create a socklike training aid and spend the next five years trying to convince everyone how much better than a sock it is. Also, ask yourself how likely people are to use your product on a regular basis. There is no substitute
for practice. I am a firm believer that training aids can provide both meaningful feedback as well as motivation to practice, but if your product can’t be integrated into someone’s training routine, the potential for sales will be limited.
I hope this article has given readers food for thought. Training aid inventors get short shrift, but if you think about it, they represent the dynamic heart of golf instruction. I’m not talking about the companies who sell mainstream copies of other people’s ideas; I mean the people who ardently pace the aisles of Home Depot and Toys ‘R Us prior to learning a whole new industry so they can share their insight with others who love this game. Their products represent the thoughts and trends of modern-day teachers. Be nice to them, because they’re going to have some three-putts along the way.
Dane Wiren has run Golf Around the World in West Palm Beach, Florida, for 24 years and is the leading expert in the field of golf training aids. You can see the products discussed in this article in the New Products section of their new website, www.GolfTrainingAids.com. Discounts are available to USGTF members. Call 800-for-GARY for login details. If you’d like to hear more about training aids or have questions, send an e-mail to: DaneWiren@GolfTrainingAids.com.